When we think of wise people in our lives, we may each come up with a different image. I think of people older than I am, who have experienced life, and learned from their experiences. They are not necessarily academically gifted people, but rather people who are educated by what they have experienced. One thing the ones who come to my mind all have in common is that they are willing to share their experiences and hopefully help those who will listen avoid some of the difficult situations they have experienced, in other words, they have learned from their mistakes and pass that knowledge down to those who will listen.
They have other things in common as well. They usually take life one day at a time. They plan for the future, but they also live each day to the fullest. They seldom seem to be in a big hurry to get somewhere or do something. They are also good listeners and when I talk with them, they take as much time as I need, never making me feel like I am keeping them from doing something more important.
I am at the age where some people may even expect me to have some wisdom, and be able to share it with them. Hopefully I won’t disappoint them too much.
When we think of wise people in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we often think of King Solomon.
Solomon was a very young man, not more than twenty years old, when he became king and had the heavy burden of caring for a great land. His kingdom was larger than the twelve tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. On the north he ruled over all Syria, from Mount Hermon as far as the Euphrates River. On the east, Ammon and Moab were under his power, and in the south all the land of Edom, far down into the desert where the Israelites had wandered long before.
He had no wars, as David had before him, but at home and abroad his great realm was at peace as long as Solomon reigned. Soon after Solomon became king he went to Gibeon, a few miles north of Jerusalem, where the altar of the Lord stood until the Temple was built. At Gibeon Solomon made his offerings and worshipped the Lord God of Israel. And that night God came to Solomon, and spoke to him. The Lord said, "Ask of me whatever you choose, and I will give it to you." And Solomon said to the Lord, "O Lord, you showed great kindness to my father, David; and now you have made me king in my father's place. I am only a child, O Lord. I do not know how to rule this great people, which are as numerous as all of the dust particles on the earth. Give me, I pray, wisdom and knowledge, that I may judge these people, and may know how to rule them aright." The Lord was pleased with Solomon's choice, and the Lord said to Solomon, "Since you have not asked me for long life, nor great riches for yourself, nor victory over your enemies, nor great power, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge to judge this people, I have given you wisdom greater than that of any king before you, and greater than that of any king that shall come after you. And because you have asked this, I will give you not only wisdom, but also honor and riches. And if you will obey my words, as your father David did, you shall have a long life, and shall rule for many years." Then Solomon woke up and realized that it was a dream. But it was a dream that came true, for God gave to Solomon all that he had promised, wisdom, and riches, and honor, and power, and long life.
Soon after this Solomon showed his wisdom. Two women came before him with two little babies, one dead and the other living. Each of the two women claimed the living child as her own, and said that the dead child belonged to the other woman. One of the women said, "O my lord, we two women were sleeping with our children in one bed. And this woman in her sleep lay upon her child, and it died. Then she placed her dead child beside me while I was asleep, and took my child. In the morning I saw that it was not my child; but she says it is mine, and the living child is hers. Now, O king, command this woman to give me my own child." Then the other woman said, "That is not true. The dead baby is her own, and the living one is mine, which she is trying to take from me." The young king listened to both women. Then he said, "Bring me a sword." They brought a sword, and then Solomon said, "Take this sword, and cut the living child in two, and give half of it to each one." Then one of the women cried out, and said, "O my lord, do not kill my child! Let the other woman have it, but let the child live!" But the other woman said, "No, cut the child in two, and divide it between us!" Then Solomon said, "Give the living child to the woman who would not have it slain, for she is its mother." And all the people wondered at the wisdom of one so young; and they saw that God had given him understanding.
In our first reading, James talks about two kinds of wisdom, that from above, and that from the world. Wisdom from above has certain characteristics; it is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy. King Solomon had wisdom from above and I imagine many people who are wise also share these traits. They are pure of heart, using their wisdom to help others and not to find cunning ways to benefit themselves. They strive for peace, not conflict. They are gentle and willing to not only impart their wisdom, but also to listen, and look at other peoples points of view with open eyes, and not simply dismiss it because it is different than their own point of view.
In our Gospel reading Jesus imparts some heavenly wisdom on his disciples. The disciples had been arguing about which disciple was the greatest. When they were asked about this, they were silent, they were too afraid to even tell Jesus what they had been arguing about, but Jesus already knew.
Jesus told them that in order to be the first, one must be the last and servant to all.
While these are good points about wisdom, one question continues to come to my mind. That is how do we share the wisdom that God has given us with people who do not know the Lord? There seems to be a lot of ways people try to do this, but many of the methods we see in action only push people away from the Church and away from the Christian faith. People outside the Church often see us Church people as hypocrites, as irrelevant, and don’t want anything to do with us.
They hear Christians talk about loving their neighbors and then see Churches demonstrating at soldier’s funerals, not because of anything that soldier had done, but because the military took a stand they don’t agree with. They hear talk about the unity of the body of Christ, and see Christians who can’t agree about things breaking apart and going their own separate ways, saying they can no longer worship with people they can’t agree with. They hear Christians talk about standing with the oppressed and disadvantaged, and then hear the eerie silence of Christians when those oppressed or disadvantaged are not fellow Christians or fellow Americans.
So, how do we reach people with the Good News of God’s love, when they won’t have anything to do with us? In our Gospel reading, Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man must be delivered into human hands and be killed, and that three days later he will rise again. Remember from last week that the Son of Man is a name used for Jesus that contrasts Son of God, affirming the humanity of Jesus, which exists alongside his divinity.
For some reason, this verse didn’t get expanded on much in our reading, but I believe this is the key. Jesus gave up his own life for all of humanity. Our calling as Jesus’ disciples is to take the Good News to the world. Jesus gave the disciples two commandments, to love God with all of our hearts, all of our soul, all of our minds, and all of our strength, and the second like the first, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not only are these commandments, but loving our neighbors as ourselves could also be a way to reach those who don’t know the Lord or trust the Church.
I would like to share a quote from another wise person, one who is more contemporary than King Solomon. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister said: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
I wonder, if more Christians showed God’s love to others by striving to accept them as they are, instead of trying to change them to conform to what that particular Christian or group of Christians thinks they should be, if people might view the Church as more relevant and inviting. It is not as much about what we say to people as it how they see us live. It is not so much about being able to quote Scripture as it is living our lives following Jesus, doing what Jesus would do.
The wisdom we have been given from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy. Let us use that heavenly wisdom to share God’s love with the world.